Because fisherman Jim Edwards sold his snow crab to Quin-Sea, which runs the small plant in Change Islands where he lives, he says the nearby Fogo Island Coop, which he's been a member of since pre-moratorium days, will no longer buy his cod. The way Jim sees it, Ottawa preaches the independence of small-boat enterprises, but fishermen like him are not free.
Jim Edwards, 59, a small-boat owner-operator from Change Islands, also sits on the fishermen's committee that runs the local plant. The historic fishing community of Change Islands — birthplace of Art Scammell's Squid Jiggin' Grounds — has 143 full-time residents, and a dozen or so small-boat enterprises.
Quin-Sea leases the local plant and Jim says it's only right to support his community, and so he and other local fishermen sell their snow crab to the company.
That's even though there's been little to no work at the plant in recent years, and the community is in the market for a new operator as the 10-year lease is up this year.
At the same time, Jim has been a member in good standing of the nearby Fogo Island Coop since the late 1980s.
He says he was told this year by the Coop they would not buy his cod unless Jim also sells them his crab.
Small-boat enterprise owners tell similar stories on every coast.
Boats cannot move freely between processors/buyers, companies that also set union-sanctioned trip limits and fishing schedules.
"It's just like the merchant days, the days my grandfather, where you do as we say, or else."
Jim and his family also runs the only store in Change Islands, and he points out that he can't deny anyone from buying groceries there.
Likewise, fish processing companies should not be allowed to deny fishermen the purchase of their fish in what is clearly anti-competitive behaviour. (Keeping in mind the inshore fishery is the only industry in Canada excluded from the federal Competition Act.)
This is where the provincial government — which is responsible for fish processing — must revoke the processing licenses of companies that refuse to buy from small-boat enterprises.
Processing licenses are a privilege, and government must ensure they are not misused against the inshore fleet.
Jim says it's time to clean house and start over, and elect politicians and industry representatives with some backbone. (Amen to that.)
The way he sees it, Change Islands and rural communities are finished unless there's change.
"What happens another five years down the road? A lot of us will go out anyway because of the age group. There will be few left, and where will they sell fish to then? They won't be able to. There might be a plant in St. Anthony, another in La Scie, and another in Cape Freels. Rural communities will not survive. It's goin' right to pieces. Shockin'."
Jim Edwards says it's time to clean house and start over.
I say let's go.
Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit sea-nl.ca to join.